Alaska foster families get another year of fully funded child care 

jackets hung up
Children’s coats hang in a hallway at Hillcrest Childcare Center in Anchorage on April 18, 2024. (Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon)

State officials have alerted foster parents that Alaska health and community services agencies will take over the costs of a federal program that fully funds their child care after the pandemic-era money ends in July.

The news is a boon to the foster system, which foster families and child care providers say has struggled to find families that can afford to foster because child care costs are so high in the state.

Ashli Mackey is one of those foster parents, who currently cares for two foster children in addition to her five adopted and biological children. Without child care covered, she said, she would not be able to afford being a foster parent.

“I would no longer be able to continue fostering kiddos in need or supporting reunification. For long-term planning, it would also impact my ability to adopt kids,” she said.

Four of Mackey’s children need child care, two of whom are her foster children. She is a teacher for the Anchorage School District and said that child care costs for the other two is 35% of her paycheck.

“Doubling that would be impossible. So if there’s a lapse in full childcare subsidies for foster parents, I would anticipate that homes such as mine would need to close their licenses,” she said.

Mackey said the change means her foster children will continue to get an early education. If the money had run out at the end of this month as it was set to do, she would have had to hire a nanny — depriving her kids of the socialization with other children that teaches basic skills that they need to be successful as future students and community members.

The state has long subsidized child care for foster families, but during the pandemic it used federal relief dollars to pay the entire cost of care. A spokesperson for the Department of Family and Community Services said the state will dedicate $350,000 to the effort over the next fiscal year, which equates to full funding for about 530 families.

Advocates say the change means that more families will be able to take care of the state’s most vulnerable children, which improves health outcomes and keeps siblings together. And they are applauding the coverage of the full cost of care, rather than the “market rate,” which is typically lower and often doesn’t pay the full bill, leaving parents paying the difference.

Christina Eubanks, the director of Hillcrest Child Care Center in Anchorage, was one of the providers who brought the issue to public attention. Hillcrest serves several families with foster children, including Mackey’s, and Eubanks had to warn parents that they would be responsible for part of the $1,850 a month it costs to enroll a child at her care center.

“The cost was way more than what the reimbursement rate was,” she said. “If it goes back to how it was before, you’re going to start looking at paying five to $600 a month in child care costs.”

She said she was worried fewer people would foster, leaving more children in state custody, if the state did not act.

Rabbi Abram Goodstein of the Beth Sholom congregation is an advocate who amplified her message. “A lot of us kind of got together and realized we should really push the state to support what I would say is the most vulnerable Alaskans in our state,” he said. “These are children that are under six who don’t necessarily have stable child care, who don’t necessarily have a stable home, who could really benefit from a quality early education — and if it were free for them, that would be an incredible boost to their success in life.”

Advocates rallied around the issue when it was raised at a listening session sponsored by the Alaska Children’s Trust. ACT Director Trevor Storrs said state officials took ownership of the issue once advocates pointed it out.

“This really happened because of the leadership of our commissioners, and we thank them for their continued support of children and families, because they really made it happen,” he said.

Storrs added that the solution underlines how important it is to invest in families.

“This is just a small step towards really universal child care, which is the ultimate solution to dealing with their child care crisis,” he said.

The letter to foster parents said the state agencies would seek to continue the funding further into the future.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and X.

Previous articleAnchorage driver killed in collision with water truck, police say
Next articleAlaska News Nightly: Monday, June 24, 2024